I sat down Sunday afternoon with a feeling I hadn’t had in over a year and a half: the Blackhawks were appointment television again. The Hawks came in owners of six straights wins, and facing up against the Detroit Red Wings for a possible seventh. It was hockey heaven. Patrick Kane leaked out on a breakaway with four minutes left to put the game out of reach. I fired off a fist-pump so big that if anyone had seen it, I’d probably still be reeling from the embarrassment.
Now, they’ve played plenty of Sunday matinee games over the past 18 months, but I paid those no mind. Not even the coveted outdoor games could have pulled my interest. I had no interest in watching a team that I thought had no chance of outplaying inflated contracts they had given to aging players. I wanted them to do that thing; the one thing every sports fan dreads hearing; the thing you’ve had to explain multiple times to your parents or significant other. I wanted the Hawks to TANK.
But Sunday – despite all the losing streaks this season – was a meaningful game for playoff hopes. Yeah you read that right, I said playoffs. Like, the Stanley Cup-kind. They walked into the United Center only four points out of the final wild card spot. There’s a 20 per cent chance they make the playoffs, and if the draft lottery were today, they’d have a 19 per cent chance of getting a top-3 pick. That’s an insane position to be in on Feb. 11. In all likelihood, they’ll blow both chances: They won’t give me playoff games, and they won’t get me a top-tier draft pick. But they already have given me something just as good: a reason to care.
We all know being a fan while your team is intentionally losing is no fun. If you tried to explain to your kids why it was a good thing the Bulls lost to the Wizards over the weekend, they would have no tolerance or patience for it. They like having fun, and prioritize it over some over-arching delusion that, if asked, they could run a professional sports franchise. But somewhere along the lines, we stopped having fun and started being businesspeople. It’s a trend that, starting Sunday, I’m trying to reverse in myself.
The intention behind tanking is sound enough logic. If my team’s hopes of making the playoffs or winning a championship are slim to none, I want them to lose as many games as possible to get premier draft picks. That way, they can acquire future superstars and be relevant again, instead of floating around in the middle of the pack. The problem with this piece of logic is two fold:
- These premier draft picks hold no guarantee of future success. I could go on for hours about all the franchises who are still waiting for one of their top-5 draft picks to take them to the promised land. It’s a crapshoot at best.
- You’re applying logic to an incredibly illogical endeavor. These teams have done nothing to earn your affiliation other than be, geographically, the closest one to you. “These are my people. We wear these colors. All other people and their colors are stupid and bad.” It’s the kind of tribalism that’s most usually associated with cavemen.
Now, I’m not putting down sports. Passion among fans is the reason jobs like mine even exist. But sometimes, what gets lost, is that this is supposed to be a good time. Running those organizations is not your job. Your job is to enjoy it. If the product is not something you enjoy, then don’t watch. TV ratings and attendance will dip so low that your team will have to make sweeping changes, hopefully for the better.
In the meantime, pick up a book. Call a friend you haven’t seen in a couple months and ask how they’re doing. You’ll be much happier than scouring the internet for the latest mock draft.
But if you still want to watch your team, even when they stink, don’t tie yourself into a pretzel of cognitive dissonance rooting for them to lose. If you’re a parent, take cues from your kid. They’re doing it the right way. They just have fun. If you’re still young enough to remember when you didn’t care about draft position and playoff percentages, try to get back to that place.
I know I’m trying to.
– Jake Logli, Sportsfan 1330